Just like any other retail store, car dealerships are as much about branding as they are about selling products. So when Marc Heitz decided to design his Chevrolet franchise to resemble more of an outdoor enthusiast store rather than a conventional Chevy dealer, General Motors stepped in by stopping payment of quarterly dealer bonuses to the tune of $250,000 each. Now, Automotive News is reporting that rather than redesigning the store or losing an estimated $1 million per year in bonuses, Heitz has instead sold his franchise to a cross-town rival, David Stanley Chevrolet.

Heitz had built his franchise into an attraction as well as a car dealership with unique features like a log-cabin facade, two dog runs and a 110-foot windmill outside and an aquarium, 45-foot tall waterfall and numerous animal statues inside; Chevrolet's design standards consist of a white-and-blue facade.

With annual sales expected to total more than 1,800 new cars this year (making it the 15th best-selling Chevy dealer in the US), we doubt that it will take too long for the new owner to redesign the dealership, which has been renamed David Stanley Chevrolet of Norman. The terms for the sale were not announced, but Heitz spent $20 million building the dealer in 2008.



I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 114 Comments
      RICK
      • 2 Years Ago
      This guy spent $20 million on a unique store for the long haul with full approval of GM before they filed for bankruptcy. After GM filed for bankruptcy and all dealer contracts were voided, GM changed all of the rules. Dealers were forced to sign new agreements to get their franchise back or lose their business. GM mismanaged a failed business model and now, they have micro managed a successful business model out of existence. The same people that missed the market with the new Malibu, missed the market in Norman, Oklahoma. Autoblog should back in 5 years and see if the sales numbers are up or down. Chevy Runs Deep.
      Relyat08
      • 2 Years Ago
      It seems to me, just from casual observation that this guy was a fairly successful business man and made what would normally be considered a good investment by attracting so much traffic to his place of business because of its unique nature. GM is loaded up with a bunch of idiots if they think that conforming to a bland, boring, overused set of building rules is going to be more successful than allow franchise owners the ability to determine how they want to run their business and sell more cars. They all have the same goal of making a profit and selling as many cars as possible. Allowing Franchise owners the ability to use their business sense to a reasonable extent would be a very profitable venture in my opinion.
        dave and mary
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Relyat08
        McDonalds, Disney, KFC, etc are successful because of quality and brand identity. Chevy is not known for quality - atleast not over-the-top quality. That leaves brand identity. Chevy was right in their actions.
          Danrar
          • 2 Years Ago
          @dave and mary
          McDonalds has quite a few high profile stores that don't follow the brand identity. Disney alters theirs to fit the local culture. KFC doesn't have an identity.
          alphac2005
          • 2 Years Ago
          @dave and mary
          It's been mentioned that there are many unique McDonald's that don't follow the corporate format, but that is no more. For all new construction, corporate dictates nearly every single piece of a new store, even if owned by a franchise. It's down to McDonald's only allowing the franchisee to select from a palette of a few colors for the floor tiles, period, otherwise, there is zero flexibility in the store design, format, etc. The fact here is that the owner had approval to do this and after the fact, they changed the terms. Companies such as McDonald's is not requiring current stores that don't follow the format of the "look" to rebuild and follow the new design, only if they have decided to remodel or tear down and rebuild.
          jtav2002
          • 2 Years Ago
          @dave and mary
          They weren't right in their actions. He had approval when he first built the dealer. Now they take away a successful business model this guy was using. I can see having to adhere to the new changes for any new dealers in the future, but to punish a guy that did everything by the book and was bringing them a lot of business for not adhering to newly imposed guidelines. I work in marketing so I understand just how important branding is, but I'd gladly accept some outside of the box thinking for the very good numbers this guy was pulling in. Also, I don't consider Big Macs high quality lol.
          Brian
          • 2 Years Ago
          @dave and mary
          @alphac2005 This isn't entirely true. McDonald's does have style guides that meet various situations -- for example, if you are high traffic, rural, downtown (like NYC) a part of a gas station, etc. However, franchisees -- especially those who own quite a few successful stores -- can get exceptions based on various factors. In one of the examples above, if the location was of high quality, but was in a historical part of town that had laws indicating the style of exterior (ie, color of brick), they will make exceptions. Will they allow you to do a store all willy-nilly to your tastes? Doubtful. But if it was the similar in status of this Chevy Dealer, they would have certainly make some exceptions.
          jtav2002
          • 2 Years Ago
          @dave and mary
          Besides, if you're going to use fast food examples, if you travel around they often have subtle menu differences or slightly different prep methods for the same menu items based on region. Doesn't seem all that different here. The theme he had going fit for the area he was in. Sure, had he built this dealer in NYC or LA than naturally it wouldn't make much sense for that market.
          imoore
          • 2 Years Ago
          @dave and mary
          @Dave & Mary: If you ever worked in the fast food industry as I have at one time, you'll quickly realize that quality doesn't matter. Once the franchise onwer gets the rights and license to that brand for his/her market, they don't care anymore because the name will bring them money. And let's not get started with Disney, with its dodgey cable shows, crappy ABC programs and their insistance that you can't mention sports without ESPN's involvement somehow.
          stahlee
          • 1 Year Ago
          @dave and mary
          Non franchised owned McDonalds do not have to look like the standard franchise McD's. We have two in town that have been around for 15 or 20 years and look nothing like the standard McD franchise stores.
      Drakkon
      • 2 Years Ago
      'Standing on principle' is usually what happens when you run out of actual reasons.
      RICK
      • 2 Years Ago
      Heitz will be missed. Last year, using the skating rink at the Marc Heitz dealership, Norman residents contributed to raising nearly $32,000 to benefit the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Marc Heitz Chevrolet in Norman opened the ice rink on its property from Nov. 25, 2011, to Jan. 3, with all proceeds benefiting the Food Bank’s Food for Kids childhood hunger programs in Cleveland County. This year, proceeds from the skating rink will benefit the Norman Assistance League. The fundraiser will run through Jan. 6. http://normantranscript.com/x983997620/Goodbye-Marc-Heitz-hello-David-Stanley?mobRedir=false
      Graham
      • 2 Years Ago
      There's more back story here. The old Marc Heitz dealership was across the street from Bob Moore Cadillac on Main Street in Norman. Both Bob Moore and Heitz were targeted to close if they didn't build new stores. Bob Moore opted to build a new Caddy story on I-35 north of Norman while Heitz built his Chevy story on the south edge of Norman right on I-35. Nearby to all of this is no less than 5 *other* new car dealerships (VW, Toyota, Honda, Buick/GMC and Nissan) also on I-35. The other commenter about the old stores was correct. Both the old caddy story and the chevy store on main street were dark, small and run down. What the pictures aren't showing you is that there are more trucks on this lot than corvettes, so in some respects he's designed his dealership around the target market of outdoorsy men. In that respect I think its a smart design and its certainly the nicest Chevy dealership in the Oklahoma City metro.
      kevsflanagan
      • 2 Years Ago
      Shame he decided to sell. I can only assume within his contract it noted he couldnt bring in another car make till xx-year or perhaps lived in a Dealership centric area where every brand was already accounted for. This guy had a idea and ran with it and well won. He created a Experience something that is very very lacking in most dealerships. This dealership was the 15th highest selling dealership in GM NA so I can only assume that they were #1 in their state by leaps and bounds. The new owners will prove if it was this owners leadership or location.
      EERO
      • 2 Years Ago
      I sit on the Design Review Board of a historic New England town. We have located at our center, a Chevy dealer who has been in business for more than 60 years, whose main building is actually a landmarked structure dating to the 1920's. The family owning the franchise have been great supporters of historic preservation and the town has responded by making the dealership successful. However GM is pushing their corporate design identity- which as I architect I believe I am qualified to say is awful- and is placing the dealership in an uncomfortable position between GM's pressure to conform and the town's preservation bylaws. The owners want to do what is right by their town, where they have deep roots and a strong local connection Despite the change in management since restructuring, Chevrolet has a legacy of embracing and promoting traditional American values. How ironic it is that they would rather deface a historic district or destroy a venerable franchise than compromise on their bland and soulless McDesign.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      Carpinions
      • 2 Years Ago
      This is one of those instances where you could come down on either side of the issue. Some will say GM brass is being stupid while others say they're protecting their brand. Some will bemoan the loss of a unique, earning dealership while others say the least cost would have been for the owner to just conform. At the end of the day these decisions have to be made regardless, and GM is a bigger business than Marc Heitz. There are a couple dealerships somewhat like this one in the Phoenix area, one of which I know is a Toyota house; I have no idea how Toyota views its dealers on questions of conformity, but the dealership in question has a huge jungle-like play area for kids, a food court I think, and other luxuries for what will surely be a day full of being sold a vast array of Toyota vehicles. Perhaps other marques react similarly, but in this case I personally have to side with GM. They are obviously a lot more brand conscious now than they were 6-8 years ago, and flipping 1 dealer's presentation to keep that branding where they think it needs to be is a small loss at the end of the day.
        Bassracerx
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Carpinions
        GM could be more accommodating to some variance's and smart local marketing. Either the previous owner of this dealership is a total genius or a complete redneck. either way, it totally seems to have worked to be number 15 in the country. that being said 1 million a year is a lot of money and either that made it go from profit to debt and he was smart enough to get out of there or perhaps that was what the owner was counting on for his salary. Selling the franchise was probably the best decision for the owner (it keeps him from being the bad guy down the road when things go south) but GM should not have forced his hand they should have been able to work out something.
      ICantDrive88
      • 2 Years Ago
      I've seen Chevy dealers inside old Mazda/Pontiac dealers and Chrysler dealers here in STL, I don't see why this was such an issue. I get it in a way I guess, make them more brand-centric and standardized. He should probably just made it a used car dealer and have the new francisee build their own dealer near that location.
      cds9000
      • 2 Years Ago
      Most people here understand how the concept of how "franchising" works, so there's no need to continue ranting about how "Heitz entered into a contract, blah blah blah." Equally useless is any of the "Yes it is/No it isn't" debate about whether this is a typical example of GM behavior, an indictment on its products, etc etc. The real point is, this guy did something very cool with a dealership that reflects solid regional marketing. Regardless of GM's mandate, people would rather buy from a warm inviting shop than something that feels like a hospital ER. Rather than learn from the free market research this particular dealer has done, and possibly make changes to either the franchise rules or the dealership design aesthetic, GM took a hard-line zero-tolerance approach. To me, that's just stupid. Market demand should drive policy. I dislike when companies attempt to tell the market what it demands. "You'll get this and like it." It's a dying concept, and one that many automakers clearly still don't understand. In this case, Heitz's move to take his toys and go home is exactly what I would've done, in the absence of a way to give the GM the finger in a bigger way. Keep selling Malibus out of a school cafeteria, GM.
        The Wasp
        • 2 Years Ago
        @cds9000
        As I understand it, GM is allowing this dealership to continue as is. They're just not going to reward him for coming up with his own design scheme to rebrand their product.
          cds9000
          • 2 Years Ago
          @The Wasp
          Good point, but $1M a year isn't chump change. If the dealership meets its sales targets, then they've earned their bonuses, in my opinion.
          High
          • 2 Years Ago
          @The Wasp
          Just a resigned scheme that helped propel him to one of the top dealers in the nation. Maybe he should do a customer study on how many more sales his design scheme gave him and sue Chevrolet for the difference. He invested a lot of money in that design because he believed he would gain it back by sales and he obviously was on his way.
      Brian
      • 2 Years Ago
      It is really sad that GM was too stupid to see the brilliance of this dealership. Maybe they were embarrased that their vehicles were not nearly as nice as this guys showroom was.
    • Load More Comments